But his lack of experience won’t deter him from dreaming big in Lula. He wants to look into ways to fund the city’s own police department instead of being covered by Banks and Hall county sheriff’s offices.
In a meeting in October, representatives from both Banks and Hall counties told the city council that Lula was sufficiently covered, but Thomas took this as a slight.
“The whole meeting was spent saying how we don’t need a police department,” he said. “I know we won’t do it right away.”
Funding may be difficult to come by for the small East Hall city, especially because Thomas said he would not want to establish a city property tax.
But more than anything, Thomas wants more people civically engaged.
“We’ve got 3,000 people and you’ve only got 30 people at the city council meetings, that’s less than 1%,” he said. “It’s kind of disheartening.”
He has issues with the city’s website, which he called outdated. Better social media engagement and a city newsletter could help keep people in the loop, he said, but few people subscribe to the city’s newsletter now.
“It’s in effect but it’s ineffectual, — nobody’s using it,” Thomas said. “They’re not totally using Facebook like I think it can be used.”
For most of his life, Thomas has lived in small towns. He was born in Anniston, Alabama, then moved to Albany, Georgia, at age 6. He spent his high school years in Baconton and graduated from Georgia Tech in 1970.
But he spent much of his professional life as a printer working in Oakwood and Doraville, while living in Lula most of that time.
He tried retiring in 2010 but started working for the post office two years later. He and his wife, Patti, have lived 32 years on the same lot. Initially they bought a double-wide trailer but have since built a house on the same footprint, he said.
One issue he’s seen go unfixed for years is finding an alternate route for semi trucks that need to cross Lula’s train tracks downtown close to the Hall and Banks county border.
“Sometimes the train sits here for two or three hours at a time,” he said. “There’s nowhere for them to get by. I got to find somewhere.”
The Cobb Street railroad bridge is frequently inaccessible and semi trucks can’t use it regardless.
Other issues downtown stem from the COVID-19 pandemic. Only one dine-in restaurant remains and some locations have converted to catering-only.
Thomas wants to see more options for residents. One restaurateur told him there wasn’t enough foot traffic to support a new restaurant.
“So now we’ve got to get more people in here,” he said. “But we can’t get more people in here until there’s more restaurants. What are we going to do? We’ve got to find the answer.”